There has been a lot of negativity towards the 3DS this year. When it first came out a lot of people weren’t impressed with the games that were available. I disagreed since Pilotwings Resort and Street Fighter kept me busy and I also quite enjoyed other titles like Steel Diver and Ridge Racer. However it was hard to stay excited in the coming months as it is just a fact that not much was coming out for weeks and months at a time. I bought Ocarina of Time 3D more out of a feeling of necessity than any actual desire to own the game. I just wanted to buy something for it. The virtual console has had a pretty good kick-off but as far as proper 3DS games, it’s hard to deny there was not a whole lot going on. I’m also choosing not to go into the whole price drop insanity.
Super Mario 3D Land (for the record, I too think the 3D should be at the end of the title) is the game that’s supposed to kick things off for the 3DS. This is where many of us have been expecting for things to start to really pick-up and the handheld really begins to live up to its potential. And what a great jumping off point it is.
Super Mario 3D Land could be the most clear cut example of a Mario game giving you the most bare bones narrative possible. The game opens up, Mario is walking through a field, he finds a letter that has a picture of Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach, and away we go. The whole scene lasts maybe 20 seconds and then you’re off and running. Its even quicker here than it was in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Of course I’m completely ok with this, in fact I would be in favour of shortening it even further. The next game should open with Mario answering the phone and on the other end Bowser just says “Yup” and then we’re off. You don’t even have to give us that, just drop us at the very beginning of stage 1 right from the start and we’ll be good. Anyway, I will never criticize the lack of story in a Mario platformer and it has now taken you longer to read this than it would to watch this game’s story unfold, so let’s move on.
Super Mario 3D Land is an interesting mix of 2D style platforming taking place in a 3D environment. You are free to run around your environment but you are still almost always traversing a linear path. Occasionally you’ll get a more open area with a couple of different paths, but it’s not the focus. You are also not always simply running from left to right. Sometimes you have an overhead view, the camera goes behind you every now and then, and the perspective is always being shifted around. It’s cool and makes great use of one of the highlights here – the 3D.
For the most part I’ve been quite happy with the 3D implementation on the 3DS. Once the initial “holy shit I can almost touch it” factor wears off, it remains at the very least a cool effect. Super Mario 3D Land is easily the best use of it so far, not simply relying on it as a visual gimmick but actually making smart use of it within the actual gameplay structure. Certain rooms and puzzles are actually easier to traverse when the 3D is on. It’s difficult to explain it in writing but play the game, you’ll see exactly what I mean very quickly. There are some impressive visual tricks going on with the 3D as well. When the camera is positioned above you, there is an immense sense of depth and often you will be leaping down to platforms that appear to be miles below you. There’s the usual effect of items popping out at you but it was the depth effect that impressed me the most.
There are elements from many past Mario games in play here but the one paid the most homage is easily Super Mario Bros. 3. The biggest example is the return of the Tanooki suit but there are others as well, such as Koopa Kids, Boom Boom, mushroom houses (oh god, so happy to hear that music) the bouncy music blocks and more. It strikes a fine balance between throwback and being it’s own separate beast. It is also similar to Mario 3 in that it is fun as all hell.
Seems odd that it took me this long to mention it but yes, Super Mario 3D Land is a whole lot of fun. The level design is top notch (though what else can you really expect from the guys what brought us Super Mario Galaxy) with nearly every level presenting a new and unique challenge or obstacle that will be the theme for that stage. The controls are airtight. Running, jumping, it all feels great and you would be hard pressed to blame any deaths on poor control and not user error. Plus I mean, it’s a Mario game. If you have ever at any point in your life enjoyed a Mario platformer, there is absolutely no reason you will not enjoy this one as well. It’s a generalization I try to avoid making but it’s kind of undeniable in this case.
One thing to note is that, like me, you may think this game starts out crazy easy. I was burning through the levels and had reached World 8 within maybe a couple of hours. I was ready to storm the Internet and join the ranks of others complaining about the short length of the game and it’s painfully low difficulty. But once you beat World 8, you unlock 8 additional worlds and these ones will terrorize you. The first few aren’t bad but by World 6 or 7, your stock of 150 lives will be dented by the dozens with each passing stage.
My one gripe with these stages is that often the challenge relies on something like a short time limit that can only be increased by collecting clocks. My gripe isn’t so much with this concept as a whole but with one of the ways they use it – that son of a bitch Shadow Mario. Holy shit do I ever wish this game concluded with repeatedly pressing the A button to stomp on this guy’s throat over and over again. By the end it felt like every stage began with that fucker showing up. In case you aren’t familiar, this asshole’s whole shtick is that he relentlessly chases you throughout the whole level and hurts you if he touches you. So you’re dealing with a level that would be tricky on its own, but on top of that you’re trying to collect clocks to increase your time limit AND this jackass is chasing you everywhere. Oh and often he’s twice your size. Soooo many deaths by this cocksucker’s hands that all I want to do is brutally slaughter him. Not too much to ask.
Fucking goddamn Shadow Mario aside, it’s hard to find any real faults with this one. I mean yes I wish the World Map wasn’t just a straight line. They should have also taken the non-linear maps from Mario 3 as well but I mean I can deal. And yes the propeller suit is kind of weak and seems to only exist to serve the 3D, but again, I can deal and it doesn’t detract from the game at all. Really, I think that’s all I got. Super Mario 3D Land is a fantastic game and easily the best reason to own a 3DS. Maybe not quite worth buying the system for, but it’s a terrific first step into what I sincerely hope will be a glorious age for the 3DS.